Wild turtles are mainly carnivorous, feeding on worms, small insects, snails, and fish. In comparison, pet turtles have developed a different, more broad preference for food than wild turtles due to domestication. As a result, they are omnivorous, enjoying both meat and plants as a meal. However, can and should pet turtles eat bread?
Turtles can but shouldn’t eat bread. Their digestive system is different from ours. Wild or domesticated, turtles lack important enzymes for the digestion of sugars, flour, yeast, and dairy products. Eating bread can lead to an unhealthy diet and malnutrition.
Why can’t turtles digest bread but eat it regardless? Are there kinds of bread that your turtle can digest better? Are there any turtle species that can digest bread better than others? This article answers these questions in detail.
Why shouldn’t turtles eat bread?
Incomplete digestion of sugars
Turtles can consume bread occasionally. However, it will not provide any nutrition and will only be a problem for their digestive tract. When you, Homo sapiens, bite a piece of bread, its digestion starts in the mouth.
The enzyme amylase from the saliva breaks down the carbohydrates into smaller chemical compounds. The digestion of bread ends in the small intestine.
In comparison, the turtle’s mouth does not produce saliva and therefore lacks the enzyme amylase. Scientists have detected amylase activity only in the pancreatic tissue of aquatic turtles.
What does that mean?
Your pet turtle can only partially digest bread and can’t use its nutritional values. If your pet has an unhealthy diet, a lack of vitamins, proteins, and minerals such as calcium and phosphorous might lead to Metabolic Bone disease and other serious conditions.
The Yeast problem
Turtles have a hard time keeping their blood sugar levels in balance. That’s why you should avoid feeding your pet with carbohydrates. However, you have probably heard that yeast helps with the digestion of sugars in the human gut.
It can also deliver some proteins, vitamins, and minerals to the body. Then why can’t your turtle benefit from the cool powers of yeast as well?
The answer to this question is simple: because they haven’t spent 5000 years drinking beer and 15,000 years eating bread! Humans, however, have gathered some microscopic helpers to assist them with the digestion of yeast through the ages.
Bread and brewer’s yeast have an almost unbreakable cell wall. Even heating the dough can’t make it disappear. The bacteria Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron have settled in the human gut to snack on some complex carbohydrates from the yeast’s cell wall.
Unfortunately, these common gut bacteria haven’t yet found a new habitat in a turtle’s stomach. That’s why bread, and especially yeast, can’t be digested by your turtle.
What happens if your turtle can’t digest bread?
Bread and other processed foods contain a lot of sugars and flour that turtles can’t break down. Although the digestive systems of turtles and humans are quite different, indigestion causes similar side effects.
If any food can’t be broken down and absorbed in the stomach, it gets fermented by gut bacteria. This process causes bloating and discomfort. As a result, your turtle will release more gas or better said – fart more.
Our tip: An excessive bloating and farting are a sign of unhealthy diet, mostly leading to vitamin A and calcium deficiency. Other symptoms of deficiencies due to poor diet are swollen eyelids that you can easily spot. Change the diet of your pet if you notice any of these signs.
Why do turtles eat bread anyways?
Domesticated turtles eat everything you feed them because they don’t live in the wild and don’t need to hunt every day. Besides, turtles are opportunistic feeders and eat a wide variety of prey.
They can adapt to whatever food becomes available. As a result, they would love to munch on some breadcrumbs or crackers even if they can’t digest them. Turtles see bread as an easy snack that they will happily take advantage of.
Additionally, they can’t realize which foods make them feel good and which ones are unhealthy. Therefore, you should make sure that you never feed wild or pet turtles any bread or unhealthy snacks.
Are there breads that turtles can digest better?
Since bread is a man-made product, turtles are not adapted to digesting it and getting any nutritional value out of it. Bread, milk, and any other dairy products are mostly a part of the mammal’s diet.
However, the unhealthiest ingredients for turtles in bread are sugars and flour. White bread, for instance, is made from highly processed white flour and added sugar. Whole wheat bread, however, has the lowest levels of sugar and could cause less harm to your pet.
Your turtle might also better digest bread that doesn’t contain yeast, such as soda bread. Nevertheless, don’t consider giving your turtle any bread as a snack. It will not provide any health benefits, and it might lead to bloating.
Are there turtle species that can digest bread better?
There are many videos of Red-eared slider turtles in parks getting fed by visitors and feasting on bread. However, it’s a myth that this turtle species can digest bread better than others.
Crackers and bread are certainly not part of its diet. Like other turtles, Red-eared sliders are opportunistic feeders. They eat everything available in their habitat.
The only way for any turtle species to digest bread would be a mutation in their gut which would activate some enzymes. However, there is no such evidence in recent scientific works.
So, next time you see someone feeding bread to turtles in the park, stop them and explain why they are harming the animals.
Can bread kill turtles?
If you have already fed your turtle some bread, you probably wonder if that could be fatal.
A small amount of bread can’t kill your turtle. However, if you implement bread in its long-term diet, you will cause indigestion and malnutrition. Bread doesn’t contain proteins and doesn’t have any nutritional values for turtles.
As a result, they will not get enough energy from it. Additionally, malnutrition will lead to a lack of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and Vitamin D are important for your turtle’s carapace.
Calcium helps build and maintain the carapace, while vitamin D allows the effective absorption of calcium. If your turtle doesn’t receive enough calcium from its food, it will eventually develop Metabolic bone disease.
This disease will make the carapace lose its strength and might eventually lead to death if not treated in time.
In a nutshell, you should avoid feeding wild or pet turtles with any type of bread. Since they haven’t adapted to eating sugars, flour, or yeast, they will not receive any nutrition.
A long-term diet of bread will cause malnutrition that might lead to more serious conditions. Additionally, indigestion will make your turtle bloat and feel uncomfortable.
Even though your turtle might seem like it’s enjoying breadcrumbs or crackers, don’t let it trick you. Turtles are opportunistic feeders that would put anything in their mouth just because they don’t know when the next feast will be.